Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Abstract thinking

People say "don't think too much", and "the problem with you is that you never stop thinking!"
But thinking and abstracting and distilling our experience is how we view, synthesize and remember our world and all its highlights and lowlights!

I'm currently on the South Carolina coast - an area where the marshes meet the sea:

photo by esteemed photographer Alice Graves Harris

A gorgeous sunset, one to be savored and enjoyed - but not, I think, one to attempt to reproduce in a quilt.....everybody can see how beautiful this is.  I think Art would show us beauty where we might not have seen the patterns in the sand, in the juxtaposition of the shapes of the seaside houses (I'm working on that one!! abstract and regrouping...) and in the unexpected:

Is it a house with a hole in it? Is it a painting on the side of a house?  Is this a bit of clever photoshoppery?  Is this something that most folk just pass by and never notice?
No, no, no and yes!!!  Have fun figuring it out!!!

The practice of art is the practice of seeing beautiful things without wanting to reproduce them exactly, but rather reproducing our feelings about them.  Or of finding things that others have not seen and showing them the wonder all around.  It's always about Communication.
It IS a process of Abstraction!

Never stop thinking!! - except of course when you're ready for a nice cuppa tea!!!

If you have been, thanks for reading........Elizabeth

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Abstract Art for Quiltmakers.....

I've developed a new class called Abstract Art for Quiltmakers.
I just returned home from teaching it at the magnificent Alegre Retreat which is at the Gateway Canyons Resort in the far west of Colorado.
Here's a view of the amazing setting for this luxury resort:

See how beautifully the hotel fits into the landscape - unity with harmony indeed!!!  Five canyons meet and form a beautiful gentle green valley with the towering pink and orange (changing with the light) mesas uplifted all around.
I was in "high company":
 From left to right: me, Valerie Goodwin (teacher), her husband, Randolyn (KPM's right hand woman), Katie Pasquini Masopust (teacher and head organizer), Wendy Huhn (teacher).

I had a really superb classroom with amazing views, a giant photocopier and - best of all - a beautiful little HD theater with an IT guy on hand so I was able to show several Power Point presentations very easily.

I love this new class I've devised based on 20th Century abstract art - I've written an online version of it which will start next week at the Academy of Quilting.     It will also run later in the year if you're interested but too busy to take it right now.

Here's a selection of the students' work from last week:

What a wonderful selection of work!!!!  A big thank you to: Lynne, Penny, Gail, Valerie, Sandy, Janet, Peg, Lorraine, Lynn, Linda and Laura - you made my week!  and to all the staff at Gateway Canyons - the best teaching facilities I've encountered. 
I think the online class is going to be a great deal of fun too - I'm looking forward to seeing how it flies!
If you have been, thanks for reading....Elizabeth

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Advice to Aspiring Art Quiltmakers

A few years ago the famous thriller writer Elmore Leonard was asked for his advice to aspiring authors and he came up with a number of “rules” – let’s say Guidelines – I dislike the word “rules” because it inhibits people from deviating if they have a good reason for doing so.
After Leonard’s guidelines were published, a number of other authors were also asked for their thoughts on the topic.  And, of course, Rilke’s little book “Letters to a Young Poet” antedates them all and is well worth reading.

Now a lot of Leonard’s advice addresses literary style but what it boils down to is avoiding clichés and intrusive but meaningless details.
Cliches in art quilts are ideas that we’ve all seen before e.g. the silvery moon in the sky to add interest to a large dark area.  Why not use a strange curious raggedy cloud that almost obscures the moon – you’d get some interest up there without the old clichés.
Meaningless details are things like including signs (say in a street scene) “because they were there”…..a STOP sign adds nothing to your impression of the street and may well be very distracting.

I think also another very unnecessary detail is an overly pretentious title, or “statement” that is somehow attached to the image.  I do wish that the catalogues from the prestigious shows would stop doing this!!  How often have I seen people spend 5 minutes reading the statement and 5 seconds looking at the quilt?!!

And of course Leonard did say to avoid too many exclamation points of which I personally am very guilty when writing!  In art quilt terms, the exclamation point would, I think, be an area of high contrast or saturation of color where nothing very important was actually going on.  Be very selective with this – only use such emphasis where you really want to catch the viewer’s eye.

Other writers have commented on the value of having other people look at your work and tell you what they see…however they suggest that you do not listen to how they say you should fix the problems!!  Listen to the difficulties they spot…..but figure out your own solution.  There are a number of reasons for this – not least that it’s important to be able to fix problems for oneself.  But also because their solutions might well not be in keeping with your own ideas that you’re trying to convey.  Be especially carefully if the critic is very didactic!!!  Originality and freshness are much more important that a standard academic solution to everything.  One art professor would always give me the same suggestion for every problem, I don’t know if he was lazy or just stuck in a rut!!  But I quickly realized that one solution is not going to fix all design errors.

The writers also state that honesty is important – make the art from the heart, telling the story as you see it.  I think it’s interesting to chat to strangers in waiting rooms, or eavesdrop on conversations, to see just how much of what we say and report upon is automatic and not a fresh personal vision.  Become an eavesdropper and see if you can become aware of the honest valid statement – whether verbal or visual – so as to heighten your ability to produce these yourself.

The authors say it’s important to read a lot of books!! 
 The artist should see a lot of art – you cannot get better without doing this.
Spend your money on good art books rather than magazines full of adverts for the latest “quick fix”.

Try to find a way to look at what you’re making as a third party, rather than as you yourself with all your inside knowledge.  One way I’ve found to do this is to take photos constantly as I block out the quilt on the design wall.  Then I view them on the computer monitor – you could even put them on your tv – in the same way that I might look at anyone’s work on the small (or large) screen.

Now here’s a very interesting idea from Zadie Smith:
Avoid your weaknesses. But do this without telling yourself that the things you can’t do aren’t worth doing. Don’t mask self-doubt with contempt.
I think that’s a brilliant piece of advice – don’t struggle with a technique  you’re not good at; you don’t need to be a “well-rounded” artist!!  Respect those that can do that, but spend your own time going deeper into things that you are skilled or knowledgeable at.  This is one of the many reasons for working in a series (more in my book!!  See the sidebar).  You don’t have to learn everything, especially not those things that require more gadgets, more workshops, more how-to books etc.
Zadie Smith had another very applicable idea, which was to leave some time between writing and editing.  For quilt makers, I’d suggest make the top, then leave it for a while and come back to it weeks or even months later.  You’ll be able to assess its impact so much better with a gap in time.  I like to make several tops and just put them away…when I’ve got about half a dozen on one theme, then I’ll pull them out and take a long hard look to see which need adjustment, which need the scrap bag and which should be finished.

Well this blog is getting too long – final comment: spend more time on art than on reading blogs!!
And so I shall take my own advice……if you have been, thanks for reading!  Elizabeth

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Dyeing to Design online class...

My Dyeing to Design class with the Academy of Quilting starts this Friday.  It's a really fun class that's aimed at both the beginning dyer and the person who wants to extend some of their dyeing practices.
I emphasize Safety and Ease of Use!

There are five design elements with which most 2D artists work and I've devised a dye technique that addresses each one.
So we start with value:

You can buy value strips like this one, but you can also make them with Photoshop or a similar photo manipulation program, I just began with white and added 10% black, then 20% and so on.

In the dye class we make fabric like this in the first week.
Then I give you suggestions on how to use this in a quilt.
Then we get to see everyone's lovely quilts!!   Especially me as I'm a big fan of black and white.

The second week we look at color:
Using just 6 different dyes (you really don't need more), we create all kinds of colors, discuss color schemes and make a quilt featuring one of them.

The third week we explore texture with tie dyeing, particularly the "storm" texture of arashi shibori where the cloth is twisted and tied onto a pipe.  You can create fabric like this:

The fourth week we create shapes with a variety of screen printing techniques:
And in the final week, we look at  line:
See the skinny lines on some of the tanks? 

Each week one or more new techniques, each week a quilt top the subject and size of your choice!

If you're interesting in joining us...please contact the Academy of Quilting! 
What's really fun is that you'll be joining people from around the world!!!  My current Working in Series class has people from the USA, Canada, Australia and Tasmania, New Zealand, Europe and the UK and Africa!!!

and now back to the sewing machine......if you have been, thanks for reading!!  Elizabeth
 PS  my website has moved: it's now: and I've revamped it.
The old one was on the University of Georgia servers and in June they're going to close down all personal websites, so it's still running but will disappear soon.